Youth who spend their summers on the bike trails instead of the ball fields will soon have a team and an organized league to train, practice and compete with.
Teton Valley residents and cycling enthusiasts Amanda Carey, Nate Carey and Rick LaBelle have created a high school mountain bike team for Teton Valley and Jackson teenagers.
The team will begin practicing this summer and compete in, and host, its first event Sept. 12 at Grand Targhee Resort in Alta.
“I’m really excited for the season and can’t wait to start working with the students,” team head coach Nate Carey said. “Getting it up and going has been exciting, and it’s work that’s been really enjoyable. The community of coaches and community interest that we’ve gotten so far has been fantastic.”
An introductory meeting was held last night at the Victor Elementary School gym, where organizers fielded questions from parents and discussed the format for the season ahead.
Although the team may be brand new, a sturdy foundation is already in place known as the National Interscholastic Cycling Association.
The NICA has 15 leagues in 15 states across the country and started a league in Idaho in 2014. The association puts on all races and gathers the high school mountain bike teams throughout the state to compete against one another at league-sanctioned races.
“We’re not starting this from nowhere,” said Amanda Carey, Nate’s wife and executive director of Mountain Bike the Tetons. “There’s a lot of infrastructure in place and a lot of help. There’s a lot of standards and training, and we’re going off of that.”
Carey said there are “probably 20” registered high school mountain bike teams throughout Idaho the kids will compete against during the season.
But the team isn’t solely for established or experienced mountain bikers. The team welcomes high school riders of all abilities, from the beginner freshman girl to the experienced senior boy.
“It’s inclusive and it’s equal,” Amanda Carey said. “It doesn’t matter how good you are, if you’ve ever done it before or if you’ve ever even ridden a bike.”
And not even a bike is a requirement for participating.
“There will be fees, of course, but what we really want everyone to know is if you’re interested, please come, please show up, tell us what your situation is,” Amanda Carey said. “If you can’t find a bike, we will find one for you.”
The team already has four races scheduled in September and October and is recruiting kids on both sides of the pass to compete.
However competition is only a fraction of what the team will provide to students.
The Careys said the coaching staff will teach skills and tools such as how to properly ride a bike, how to fix a bike, trail maintenance, new techniques and how to have fun outside of the traditional model.
Preseason rides will begin to take place in June, “in-season” training begins July 1.
There will be two practices a week in July which could increase to three practices in August. When the school year begins, practices will be held twice a week with races on the weekends. If there is not a scheduled race, the coaches will hold group rides on Saturdays.
The coaches have decades of experience riding and competing but even they are taking every opportunity to learn what they can.
The Careys and LaBelle traveled to Boise in early April to participate in the first ever Idaho High School Cycling League leadership training, where they attended the two-day seminar “Comprehensive Leadership for Youth Coaches.”
The event, led by NICA Director Austin McInerny and Idaho League Director Dylan Gradhandt, included instruction in the basics of starting a team from the ground up.
The coaching trio has made every effort to provide the best instruction and deliver a quality experience to its riders, no matter how many decide to participate in year one.
“We want to start small, and we want to do it well,” Amanda Carey said. “If we have five kids and they have a fantastic time...great. That to us is a success. We want to make sure the kids have a really good experience and that they really just learn to enjoy mountain biking.”
The opportunity to be able to join a high school mountain bike team with an organized league isn’t one many are afforded.
Nate Carey attempted to start his own mountain bike team when he was in high school almost 20 years ago, but he never gained the support he wanted.
Now, with help from eager coaches and the bedrock that is the NICA, Wydaho youth have a way to compete in a nontraditional sport in a traditional format.
“What all the coaches have is just this deep sense of being in it for the right reason,” Amanda Carey said. “And it has nothing to do with us, it has everything to do with wanting to pass this passion and this love on to these kids.”